September 8, 2009

Pressure on top

The experienced batsmen need to stand up and be counted if Sri Lanka are to get out of their one-day rut

The last two seasons have been good for us in Test cricket, and it shows in how we have moved up to the No. 2 spot. But we now move into an area of our game that has caused us concern in recent times and needs more focus.

Over the last year, we have been patchy and inconsistent in ODIs. That's the best way to put it. We have won matches, but at the same time we have lost many. Our No. 7 rank in the ICC ratings is a fair indicator of where we stand. When a team is not consistent and ruthless - we beat Pakistan 3-2, we probably should have beaten them by a bigger margin after having won the first three - it's difficult to move up the rankings.

Even at home we have won six and lost nine matches in the last year. We have had to bat under the lights at the R Premadasa Stadium more often than we would have liked - seven out of nine matches - but that can't be an excuse. A 6-9 is not a great performance at home. You do want to dominate at home and win everything. We haven't done that. As a team we need to take responsibility and fix areas that need to be fixed.

One of those, a very important one, is the top-order batting. Between me, Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya, we have only two centuries in the last year. The top order has to get the runs. We get to bat the most overs, and it's our responsibility to get the big scores and bat through the innings. We have had a few bad tours individually. During the first half of the year I wasn't doing well in one-day cricket, then Jayasuriya went through a bit of a lean period. Sangakkara has held on for a while, but it is disappointing that we haven't got the big hundreds.

It's been difficult for the youngsters coming in. Yes, they have taken their time. Yes, they haven't gone in and done really well, but we have to believe in them and have a lot of faith in their ability. They will soon gain experience and understand their games better.

To be fair to them, the combination in one-day cricket keeps changing, and they haven't got consistent runs. Chamara Kapugedera has been tested for quite some time, and now he has begun to get a regular place in the side. That's a comfortable position for him to be in. Thilina Kandamby has done pretty well in the A team, and now he too is getting a longer run in the senior team. Then there is Angelo Mathews coming up. We want them to have enough experience under their belts before we go into the 2011 World Cup. And while they wait to become fixtures in the XI, they have an inspiration not far away. Tillakaratne Dilshan got limited opportunities in the initial parts of his career, and spent a lot of time at Nos. 6 or 7. But he made those chances count. Dilshan is a different character. The way he bats, the amount of confidence he has in himself, is amazing. That is to do with the attitude, and that's something we try to encourage with these guys too - carry a lot of confidence. We would love Mathews to be that guy at No. 6 or 7. If he can be that player, a lot of our problems can be solved.

Our No. 7 rank in the ICC ratings is a fair indicator of where we stand. When a team is not consistent and ruthless, it's difficult to move up the rankings

But much of it comes down to the top order, where one of the top four has to bat through. The middle order has to handle things better in certain situations.

The positive for us has been our bowling, which has been consistent and has allowed us to use well the variations we have at our disposal.

A crucial area is our fielding, which hasn't been the greatest in the last six months, and that's something we are working hard at. We need to take those half-chances and make the close run-outs.

It is a bit frustrating that we have done so well in Tests and yet struggled in the shorter form. It's all about the mindset and approach. In Test cricket you have the time to play yourself in, settle in and go about things. One-day cricket is all about handling different situations. And we haven't handled those situations properly.

That said, we need to be confident. We need to remember that we won our last one-day series, against Pakistan, which is a fairly good opposition. In between we may have lost three Twenty20s, but it's a different game. In Twenty20, if you make a mistake, it's difficult for you to come back, which is what we did against Pakistan and New Zealand. The 50-over game is completely different. Even if you make a slight error, there is plenty of time to come back.

The approach is going to be totally different, and we will go in confidently despite the presence of strong opposition in the tri-series. We have realised over the last one-and-a-half months that New Zealand are a tough side, and India of course are the No. 2 side in the world, trying to move on to No. 1. This should be fairly good preparation for the Champions Trophy, where we hope to rediscover our knack of getting it together in big tournaments.

Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer

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